Featured Image: Portrait of Don Michael Corleone played by Al Pacino. (The Godfather II) Steve Shapiro
Even for those who might be unfamiliar with Francis Ford Coppola’s epic trilogy, Steve Schapiro’s collection of photographs from the Godfather movies makes for a fascinating insight into the world of film making. As special photographer on the set of all three films, Schapiro had privileged access to the ins and outs of their production. TASHCEN’s collection of over 400 stunning photographs from his time on set is accompanied by a short foreword by the man himself as well as a collection of fascinating essays.
Schapiro’s comments on Brando’s magnetic ability to transform or on Coppola’s ingenious use of props (the stray cat given to Brando which was to become part of one of his character’s most iconic portraits) paint a colourful picture of how these films came to be. Coppola emerges as a benevolent father figure on set, guiding things with a firm but fair hand and never compromising his vision. The photographs are full of all the interesting titbits that any fan hopes for, with plenty of shots of the cast and crew larking about on and off set.
Through Schaprio’s lens we see some of the Godfather’s most famous scenes from a slightly different perspective, and he often documents the complex setting up required for even the simplest of shots. There are a some beautiful portraits of the actors in and out of character. One which stands out in particular is of Marlon Brando in the makeup chair. On the most basic level it is an immensely pleasing composition, with a perfectly complementary palette of blues and browns that are illuminated with care. Coppola is captured laughing in the background and a makeup artist hovers, waiting to apply finishing touches. A moment of weary calm passes over Brando’s face, the cracked expression showing glimpses of the actor underneath. The contrast between an actor and director is perhaps the most pleasing part of the photograph, one of many where Coppola’s presence seems to hang over what is being documented.
Moments like this, coupled with stills of some of the films’ most arresting moments, could be pored over for hours. This is a collection to be returned to again and again. There’s something new to be found each time you open it up. As stand-alone pictures, each one is worth examining purely within its own right, but as a collection wrapped up within the context of the films, each one takes on a whole new significance. Don Corleone taught us that ‘a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man’, and perhaps a fan who doesn’t spend time with these pictures can never be a real fan.